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Sprawl Versus In-fill


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Posted: Friday, September 28, 2012 12:00 am

Land-use and economic development are directly related to the advent of railroads, highways and freeway access.

These transportation systems have provided multiple benefits to Cibola County residents.

But nothing man-made is perfect.

There is a downside to any type of “progress.”

To build or to renovate?

If constructing new buildings, the question becomes: where?

The owner can purchase undeveloped real estate, which contributes to sprawl, or utilize property that has existing infrastructure.

This is known as “in-filling.”

The vacant land usually carries a lower price tag, but there are hidden costs.

One example is the east side of Grants.

The area from the railroad overpass on Santa Fe Avenue to the Interstate 40 (I-40) on-ramps houses thriving businesses and urban blight – such as several empty buildings that are surrounded by weeds.

The Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments was instrumental in assisting the city with a grant that allowed the area, which was originally vacant land, to be developed following the opening of I-40.

The city’s goal was to entice freeway traffic to stop and spend dollars in Grants.

But the long-term result has meant that city taxpayers foot the bill for maintaining the infrastructure: lighting, drainage, utilities, and providing law enforcement and public safety services.

Businesses on Santa Fe Avenue, Business 40, still deal with the challenges of how to attract travelers to stop in Grants.

The freeway has brought mixed blessings to Milan.

The trucking-related businesses, located near the I-40 ramps, generate gross receipts’ revenue but the heavy semi truck traffic means that nearby streets require substantial financial investments of tax dollars for maintenance.

The choices, between developing empty land or in-filling, are nothing new.

Real estate buyers are continually faced with this decision.

The county commission’s recent La Mesa Mall purchase is one example. The property faces Roosevelt Avenue and Lobo Canyon Road in Grants,

“We are taking a stressed property and will be creating an asset out of it,” emphasized Scott Vinson, county manager. The long-range goal is to re-locate all county offices to this northside site, according to Vinson.

The idea of re-vitalizing an area sounds good – especially when residents consider that it has taken decades for this region to recover from the uranium-mining boom.

The demand for the ore, following World War II, caused a rapid population expansion across the county as the mining industry increased output to meet demand. This growth meant that area officials had to respond quickly to citizens’ needs for housing, shopping, schools, medical services, and transportation infrastructure.

Driving around Grants and Milan today it’s easy to see how some of that “boom” resulted in poorly planned growth.

Many residents wonder where the money will come from to maintain and repair the existing infrastructure.

Elected officials have continued their efforts to encourage economic development since the end of mining boom in the 1980s.

The City of Grants has a 20-acre industrial park, just east of the I-40 on-ramps, which currently houses the senior center. It also owns the cemetery along with several buildings.

The county owns the judicial complex that includes the detention center, along with the hospital, the 17 acres where the new Cibola Family Health Clinic is located, the recently purchased mall, the complex of county offices on High Street, and several San Rafael lots, according to the county manager.

The Village of Milan has a number of municipal buildings. Several years ago Milan purchased more than 950 acres, known by many as the “Mormon Farm,” with the intention of developing an industrial park. Approximately 10 acres has been set aside for a cemetery, according to officials.

Municipally owned buildings house important services for area residents.

But these properties do not pay property taxes, according to the county assessor’s office.

This area’s changing demographics include opportunities for elected officials to alter future land-use trends to promote sustainable development that will benefit residents and businesses.

Community leaders must deal with balancing current needs and potential opportunities, while taking into consideration the existing tax base.

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